View Full Version : Types of Chisels

Dennis McDonaugh
02-27-2003, 9:39 AM
I need a chisel primer! I have a set of chisels I inherited from my dad, they have beveled edges and plastic handles--probably about 40 years old. The end of the handles are flat and obviously made for wacking with a hammer. I have another set, also with beveled edges, but they have longer, thinner handles, which are kinda pointy on the end so I don't think they are made for pounding. I've heard of bench chisels, paring chisels and mortise chisels--How many categories of chisels are there and how do you tell them apart?

Richard Gillespie
02-27-2003, 8:42 PM
At the risk of being a smart a__, I thought there were only two kinds, sharp and dull.

A mortising chisel has a very thick blade used to lever out the wood after striking. My take on a bench chisel is one you can hit with a hamer and a paring chisel is intended for hand work. There are a number of specility chisels on the market. You can also grind spare chisels into unusal shapes and angles for dovetail work, glue removal, etc.

Alan Hamilton
03-01-2003, 1:07 PM

It's a little hard to judge from your descriptions, but... It sounds like the plastic handled chisels are bench chisels. These are the workhorses of chisels. They can usually be struck with a mallet without damaging them.

The other set sounds as though they may be paring chisels. Paring chisels are usually longer than bench chisels, with a longer, thinner blade, and are often sharpened with a lower bevel angle. Paring chisels should not be struck with a mallet; hand pressure alone makes them work.

As for how many different kinds of chisels there are--you got me. Theres firmer chisels, socket chisels, registered mortise chisels, carving chisels, slicks, paring chisels, mortise chisels, butt chisels, skew chisels... I'll stop now.


John Kidner
03-02-2003, 10:19 AM
I was in a similar situation as you a while back. I inherited a bunch of old tools and I honestly did not know what many of them were. As I learned more I found out that some were just tools but some were real treasures (cabinet scrapers, Sorby chisels, pattern makers chisels etc) The downside was that none of the tools was sharp and I did not know how to put a good edge on them. So, if you already know how, put a razor sharp egde on everything you own. If not, learn how with "scary sharp" or wet stones and enjoy you inheritance. :D

Jim Talbert
03-02-2003, 12:16 PM
If your chisels are in really bad condition, they can have the edges straightened and correct cutting angle put back on professionally. Your local sharpening shop should be setup to handle such a job. Once this is done touch up sharpening by yourself as the user would be much easier with any method you were to choose to keep an edge on the chisels.
Jim Talbert
Cardinal Tool Sharpening

Alan Hamilton
03-02-2003, 8:03 PM

Sorry tp chime in again, but I have to disagree with Jim Talbert.

If you're going to use these tools you must learn to sharpen them yourself. Chisels, like most edge tools, often need to be touched up in the middle of a job. There's just no reasonable alternative to learning to do it yourself. The present condition of the tools is no reason not to begin right away.

If you're interested, The Museum of Woodworking Tools web site has an excellent primer on sharpening (though I don't agree with everything they say--mainly because I'd already learned before I read their article). There are also any number of articles, books and videos on sharpening available on web sites, in magazines and book stores. The basics are simple and straightforward. Once you know the basics it's all just a matter of practice.

It doesn't cost much to get started. All you need to begin is a piece of plate glass and some wet and dry paper. I would advise you to get a sharpening jig. For doing the initial reshaping of the bevel using a jig makes it go a lot easier and makes it almost fool proof (I say "almost" because I have seen how ingenious fools can be). After that you can either continue using a jig or learn to sharpen free hand.

There are no mysteries, no tricks; and you don't need to spend a fortune or a lifetime to get your tools sharp.


Dennis McDonaugh
03-02-2003, 8:47 PM
Thanks Alan, but all the chisels are sharp. I've tried them all from oilstones to waterstones to scary sharp and now I have a tormek. I was just wondering why there are so many different handles and how many categories there were.

Alan Hamilton
03-03-2003, 8:33 PM

Oops. Sorry. I guess I infered from other posts things I should not have.

Back to chisel types. You can go to some of the on-line tool sellers and browse through their chisel departments. IIRC Garrett-Wade and Highland Hardware both have a pretty good selection.

Alan (who will shut up now)

Dennis McDonaugh
03-05-2003, 9:56 AM
Thanks Alan, here's what really prompted my question. I got a set of Crown chisels for Christmas and after sharpening them I cut some dovetails. I noticed that the handle of the chisel was getting marked up rather quickly by the wooden mallet I was using to chop out the waste. They have a very small area for the mallet to make contact with and that's when I thought I might be pounding on a chisel that wasn't made for that activity.